Colorado bill advances that regulates drivers’ marijuana use

A marijuana plant is seen growing from above(DenverPost-Colorado) – A bill placing tighter restrictions on people in Colorado who drive after using marijuana took another step forward Tuesday.

But the approval by the state House of Representatives didn’t come without contention, including a skirmish among the bill’s two sponsors.

The bill, House Bill 1261, would create a limit on the amount of THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana — that drivers could have in their blood. Anybody who tests above that amount, 5 nanograms per milliliter, would be presumed to be too high to drive, just as someone with a blood-alcohol content above 0.08 percent is considered too drunk to drive.

The bill has the support of law enforcement officials, who say it brings specificity to existing laws banning stoned driving. But the proposal has been criticized by many in the medical-marijuana community, who fear the 5-nanogram level might be too low for people with high THC tolerances.

Since THC levels in the blood can spike and dip quickly and can vary based on pot potency, ingestion method and other factors, it is difficult to quantify how much marijuana people can use or how long afterward they must wait to be below the 5-nanogram limit. Furthermore, there is no way for marijuana users to easily figure out what their THC levels are.

The bill’s supporters argue that a number of studies conclude that people with levels above 5 nanograms — if not less — are impaired. Before drivers would even be taken to have their blood drawn, a police officer would need to have good reason to suspect them of drugged driving.

The fight in the House on Tuesday erupted along these divisions, when Rep. Claire Levy, a Boulder Democrat who is one of the bill’s sponsors, proposed raising the limit to 8 nanograms. Levy said it is best to be cautious.

“I became concerned that we were going to convict people and take their licenses away when they were not impaired,” Levy said.

But her proposal angered several lawmakers, including her co-sponsor, who said the 5-nanogram limit had been extensively discussed.

“There’s nothing to support that 8 is the right level,” said Rep. Mark Waller, a Colorado Springs Republican who is the bill’s other House sponsor.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, was so angry he proposed lowering the limit to 2 nanograms, before backing off. The House then voted down Levy’s proposal and passed the bill with the 5-nanogram limit, but not before taking a procedural step that will make it harder in the future for lawmakers to tinker with the limit as the bill winds through the legislature.

The bill still needs one more vote in the House before moving over to the Senate, where it must survive at least three votes to make it to the governor’s desk.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068    or

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